By Robin Finn, The New York Times, 4 December 1989
After a bridesmaid’s season in which he had twice been the runner-up in Grand Slam tournaments, a beaming Stefan Edberg was only too thrilled to get a grip on the flower-filled Tiffany trophy that pronounced him the champion of the 1989 Masters, the last event of tennis’s year and the last run of the tournament at Madison Square Garden.
It was, for Edberg, a whirlwind of a weekend, during which he knocked down the top two players in the world: Ivan Lendl, a five-time Masters champion, and Boris Becker, the defending Masters champion.
Those victories were the only tonic he could imagine that would restore a self-image that had suffered this year as he gained a reputation for making progress to tournament finals only to crumble. Until he defeated Becker in four sets yesterday, Edberg’s record in 1989 finals was a discouraging 1-6, and he had failed in five consecutive finals.
More than any other player here, Edberg seemed sincere when he conceded, before the Masters began and after the tournament was over, that he had not only wanted to win the tournament; he needed to.
”I’ve been waiting for this one,” said Edberg. ”It’s something I really needed. I’m going to start believing in myself, and that’s something I needed to do, because I know I’ve got the game and the talent to challenge for the No. 1 spot.”
Edberg, an even-tempered Swede who has been No. 3 in the world since last spring, followed his defeat of Lendl in two close sets in the semifinals Saturday with a 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1 dethroning of Becker, in a 3-hour-2-minute match yesterday afternoon.
”It’s not the easiest thing in the world to beat Lendl or Becker on two consecutive days,” said Edberg, who prefers an understated approach in his analysis of matches but could not help being bowled over by his achievement here. ”I played the best tennis of my life in those two days.”
Fadeout After First Set
Becker, whose banner year included two Grand Slam titles – Wimbledon and the United States Open -attributed his deflation as the match wore on yesterday to a simple case of burnout. After he had won the first set easily and come within a point of claiming the second-set tie breaker, Becker’s resolve, usually omnipresent, vanished.
”I was getting tired physically and mentally,” he said. ”Not many people understand how close a match can be. One set, and if I make that shot in the tie breaker, it’s an easy three-set win for me. But sometimes I’m just empty. I’m exhausted, and that’s the bottom line.”
Becker had needed to resort to acrobatics to force the second set to the tie breaker in the first place, saving himself from Edberg’s well-aimed backhand pass at a break and a set point with a somersaulting backhand volley at the net.
Fateful Forehand Pass
He pumped his fist after two strong serves put him up, 6 points to 5, in the tie breaker, but lost his edge when Edberg, who had double-faulted twice at the start of the tie breaker, presented him with a service winner, then an ace, to take a 7-6 advantage.
Edberg won the tie breaker, 8-6, by returning Becker’s second serve with a swift and unretrievable forehand pass.
”After I took the second set, I could see his serve breaking down,” said Edberg, whose play, with the exception of a single game in the third set, only grew steadier. Consistency, from the back court and at the net and eventually on his serve, again paid off for Edberg.
Becker briefly made as if to run away with the third set, where he broke an angry Edberg to take a 2-0 lead. But after changing from a worn-out racquet to a fresher one, he was broken by Edberg. That left him fuming for the rest of the match, in which he won only 2 of the last 13 games.
Beginning of the End
The new racquet did not survive for long: Becker stalked away and smashed it after the third game of that set. ”I picked out a bad one,” he said, ”and the racquet is now gone.”
In the final set, Becker progressively unraveled, raising his eyebrows at his own mistakes and raising them in grudging surprise as Edberg calmly splattered his passing shots off the side lines and laced his netside volleys with a geometry the West German could not solve.
Becker double-faulted three times in the course of losing his serve in the fourth game. When Edberg smashed an overhead to the court’s hinterlands to go up by 4-1, he clenched his fist in an uncharacteristic display of bravado.
With careful, classic ground strokes, Edberg broke Becker to take a 5-1 lead. Then, serving for the match, he did not allow Becker a single point, ending the contest with a sharp backhand volley into a court his opponent did not bother to guard.
Big Plans for ’90
Edberg was so excited about celebrating with his longtime coach, Tony Pickard, that he nearly forgot to shake hands with Becker.
Becker, acknowledged by all of his peers, but not by the computer, as 1989’s finest player, said later that he expected either Edberg or himself to take the No. 1 spot away from Lendl in 1990.
”If we stay healthy and play long enough, I think it’s definitely the case one of us will be the next No. 1,”
said Becker, who has a rematch with Edberg in two weeks when the two compete in the Davis Cup final in Stuttgart, West Germany.
”Now I’m kind of the unofficial No. 1,” Becker said. ”To have it written down on paper that I’m No. 1 and Lendl No. 2: that I would like to see.”
Semifinals: Djokovic defeats Nishikori 6-1 3-6 6-0
Roger Federer vs Lucas Pouille. World number 2 vs world number 176. A 17-time Grand Slam champion vs a player taking part to his first Masters 1000 event. Prior to this week, Pouille had only won one tour-level match, against Alex Kuznetsov last year at Roland Garros. He beat Steve Johnson and Jarkko Nieminen in the qualifiers, and then Ivo Karlovic and Fabio Fognini in the main draw to reach the third round here in Bercy.
The match seemed unbalanced on paper, but not so much on the court.
Federer won with relative ease 6-4 6-4, but I wasn’t impressed by his playing level. And I still don’t get why he doesn’t play more serve and volleys in such a game. As for Lucas Pouille, he did not seem impressed to play his idol Roger Federer in front of 12,000 people. He played a solid match, with some big serving and clean groundstrokes.
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Andy Murray needed a win over Grigor Dimitrov to secure a spot at the London ATP Finals. The Scot did it and did it in style as he dispatched Dimitrov 6-3 6-3 in a bit more than an hour. The world number 11 showed flashes of brilliance but the Scot was in control from the first to the last point of the match.
The 23 year-old Bulgarian had a great season with three titles on three different surfaces (Acapulco, Bucharest, Queen’s) and a semifinal at Wimbledon.
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Stan Wawrinka won his first match in four tournaments when he beat Dominic Thiem on Wednesday, only to lose to Kevin Anderson the next day. He served for the match and even had a few match points but Anderson prevailed 6-7 7-5 7-6. It was the Australian Open champion third loss to the South African this year.
I arrived just in time to see the last 5 games of the match so here are a few pictures: